UPDATE: During Ucluelet’s May 24 7:30 p.m. regular council meeting, council gave fourth reading and approved adoption of a zoning amendment bylaw that allows a microbrewery to operate at the former St. Aidan’s on the Hill Church at 1601 Peninsula Road.
A May 10 public hearing saw Ucluelet locals express united excitement about a potential microbrewery.
The hearing saw nothing but support piled onto Dennis Morgan’s proposal to transform the building formerly known as St. Aidan’s on the Hill Church into a microbrewery and lounge.
Community members built the church in the 1950’s but it was deconsecrated in 2010 and sold to local developer Leif Hagar in 2011. Hagar planned to keep the church intact and use its main floor as a community gathering space and the bottom floor for retail space but this plan fell through after zoning issues popped up.
The building has not hosted an event since a December 2011 concert by popular Ucluelet band Left at the Junction and a member of that band Bill Morrison was the first to speak during May 10’s public hearing.
“One of the few unifying ideas in town is that we all want to see the building preserved,” he said. “Regardless of what’s going on there, we feel that that building is very important to the identity of downtown Ucluelet.”
Morrison spoke to concerns he had heard about the potential for loud noise and rowdiness stemming from the microbrewery but suggested those who have these concerns might not understand what microbreweries are about.
“Perhaps this sentiment is coming from people who assume it’s going to be some kind of old style tavern,” he said.
“That fear amongst some people that this is a place where people are going to be loud and [bring] lots and lots of drinking in the middle of town; I don’t see this as being a pertinent argument if this microbrewery that is planned follows the path of the vast majority of the other ones.”
He said he enjoys visiting other microbreweries on Vancouver Island and suggested a new niche tourism market is forming that Ucluelet could tap into.
“I’m a beer tourist, and I’m not alone. There are people who go to these places and that’s the reason they go for: to taste,” he said. “This is a market that we have to accept is maybe independent…Most of the people I see on the beer tour, they don’t look like surfers; they’re there for a very specific reason and it’s another kind of draw into the town.”
He acknowledged parking could be an issue at the 1601 Peninsula Road site but suggested this issue should be viewed in a positive lens.
“Some of you were here in 1996 when there’s nothing that we could have wanted more for this town than a parking problem. A parking problem means a vibrant economy,” he said.
“We hear the bellyaching down the road about the parking problem. The parking problem in Tofino in August means you have to park two blocks away. I grew up in a city and I just can’t take it seriously.”
He added other communities would love to be in the same situation.
“Do you not think that the people in Gold River or Zeballos would kill for a parking problem? It’s a sign of a vibrant economy and I think that’s something that’s good not bad,” he said.
David McPherson also voiced support for Morgan’s proposal and agreed with Morrison that there is a rising interest in beer tourism.
McPherson suggested parking would be tight no matter what went into the former church.
“In fact, a pub arguably might have less of a problem than some things because of the fact that people would want to walk there,” he said. “So, I think, it’s actually a pretty good fit.”
Laura Griffith-Cochrane said a microbrewery would be a solid tourist draw.
“As someone who interacts with the public everyday at work, we get a lot of people that come out to the Coast and they’re really interested in beer and the culture of beer right now and they will come to Ucluelet, stay in Ucluelet because they like the community, and drive all the way to Tofino to go to the brewery because it’s the one on the Coast,” she said.
“If we offered somewhere that they could walk to, and the whole group could enjoy rather than one person [designated driver] having to sit out, I think it would be a really great thing for our community.”
Jess Edwards agreed.
“It’s a great opportunity for the community to bring in those tourists from Tofino that may not necessarily come and visit Ucluelet,” she said. “I think it’s only going to benefit our community.”
James Inkster supported Morrison’s view that microbreweries are not traditionally loud environments.
“I’ve been in microbreweries all across North America and Europe and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one that I’d call loud and boisterous,” he said.“Certainly nothing detrimental to town.”
Stephanie Kokesch agreed a microbrewery could be a solid tourist draw and noted she had recently enjoyed visiting one in Cumberland.
“It definitely seemed to be a gathering place for that community,” she said.
Kokesch, who helped launch the Ucluelet Bluegrass and Old-time Tunes Society in 2013, said she hoped to see the microbrewery’s lounge become a daytime venue for local musicians.
“In the music community here, we’re really hoping for a possible venue for sharing music with people that doesn’t have to be in a bar late at night,” she said.
Derek Drake, who served on Ucluelet’s council when the building’s zoning became an issue in 2012, also spoke in support of the project.
“I was on council several years ago and was eagerly awaiting a firm plan to come forward for what to do with that property and I’m really happy to see that one has come forward now,” he said. “I think it’s a great proposal and it should go forward.”
Morgan was the last to speak at the hearing and assured his intention was to create a “relaxed community gathering place,” not a raucous environment.
“It’s not meant to be a boisterous party spot,” he said.
Council will take these words into consideration when Morgan’s proposal is considered for adoption at May 24’s regular meeting.